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MauiPigFarmer's LONG Riviera Maya Trip Report 12/26/08

MauiPigFarmer's LONG Riviera Maya Trip Report 12/26/08

Old Dec 26th, 2008, 07:17 AM
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MauiPigFarmer's LONG Riviera Maya Trip Report 12/26/08

We (myself, Better Half, and our closest friends who were celebrating their 10th anniversary) flew out of DFW at 9am on December 20th on SunCountry. We were met at CUN by the Lomas Travel representative, as promised. My advice at Cancun Airport for those who haven't been is to claim your bags, get through customs, keep your head down and keep walking until you're outside. There are HUNDREDS of people selling timeshares, tours, etc. on the way out of the airport. If you stop, they will swarm on you.

After a 20 minute ride we reached our destination. We checked in to Iberostar Paraiso Beach resort without incident. The bellman took our bags on to our rooms and we meandered that way, taking our time to look over the grounds. We were in building 31, which is at the very back of the property. I didn't believe it when I read that it was a 15 minute walk from the lobby to the back of the property, but I sure believe it now. And that's walking briskly, not meandering. There is a trolley that runs about every 15 minutes, but you can't really count on it because it will not be where you need it to be!

After settling into our room (complete with towel animals and fresh flowers) we meandered back to the front to make dinner reservations. A five night stay meant two nights at ala carte restaurants, and we had read that the Japanese restaurant and the steakhouse were good so those were our choices. Apparently they were also the choices of everyone else on the property as we couldn't get into those restaurants at any seating on any night. We settled for the Mexican restaurant on 12/21 and the Brazilian restaurant on 12/23.

We checked in with the Lomas travel representative at the resort to arrange transportation back to the airport for 12/25 and also to have him look over our itinerary for Xcaret and make sure we had everything we needed for that day, including transportation to and from the park. He told us we hadn't purchased the package that included transportation and we would need to purchase transportation from him. This was the first of several items of misinformation from the Lomas Representative. I will not deal with them again.

The rest of the day was spent touring the grounds, drinking, eating and trying to make arrangements for the other couple to have their wedding vows renewed on the beach. This was another area where the Lomas agent misinformed us. More on that later. We were hoping for a late swim but were dismayed to find the pool closes at 7pm.

Sunday 12/20 we awoke to beautiful blue skies and hit the breakfast buffet early. Food was plentiful, that's for sure. The service at the restaurant was good. After breakfast we caught 10am church service at the chapel in the plaza in order to speak to the minister about vow renewal. The minister agreed to meet us Tuesday morning on the beach to perform the vow renewal and a blessing of the rings. The Lomas agent had informed us that the only way to have that done was to pay the hotel $1200(!) to provide the service. It took some research and legwork, but we got it figured out. Once again, I was glad we didn't rely on his information.

The rest of Sunday was pool day. We found the best bartender at the best section of the pool. When you go, tell Roberto at the furthest north pool bar we said Howdy and his room is ready. This guy is truly a great person, and we were glad to get to know him over the course of the vacation.

The pool is shared by the Beach and Del Mar properties and it is truly huge. We never had a problem finding beach chairs or towels, etc. It is beautifully maintained, and surrounded on all sides by lush landscaping. The hottub, however, is never hot so don't go hoping for a soak. We did flip flop ourselves out to the beach once that day, but found that the red flag was flying high and the surf was pretty rough. Having been in a red flag surf before, one of our party assured us it was not worth getting ourselves beat up for when the pool was just a few steps away, so back we went.

Sunday night we had reservations at the Mexican food restaurant. This restaurant is really not worth the trouble of making reservations. None of us finished our meals, and we all agreed that we would have been better off at the buffet.

Monday 12/22 was the day we had reserved tickets to Xcaret. Several times we had discussed how sure we were that we had purchased transportation to and from the park as part of the package. After breakfast as we were getting ready for the day one of us decided to double-check the fine print on our electronic tickets. There it was . . . transportation included. Oh and by the way, the bus would be here to pick us up in 15 minutes! Ack! The one of us who was most ready took off for the front of the property to make sure the bus got held while the other three of us frantically got everything together for the day and proceeded to the front of the property (as I've said, at least a 15 minute walk).

We boarded the bus for Xcaret, about a 40 minute ride from the property. We disembarked at Xcaret and decided to upgrade our tickets to the Xcaret plus, which included lunch (a $29 value), a family locker, snorkel rental, and a towel. Upgrade cost was $35 per person, on top of the original $89 ticket cost. Off we went to the underground river, the most popular attraction at the park. Us, and about 4,000 other people. We got our snorkel gear, stowed our stuff in the bag that they lock and then take to the end of the river for you, got our life jackets on and away we went. With about 4,000 other people. There are two choices here, which we didn't understand before our visit. One underground river is completely underground, one is underground and open. We chose the one with openings. Us and about 2,000 of the 4,000 people getting into the river all at the same time. OK, it probably wasn't that many, but when you have flippers in your face and your getting kicked all over the place it sure feels like it.

None of could figure out what the heck the snorkel gear was for, as there was absolutely nothing underwater to see. The lifejackets are horrific, riding completely up out of the water leaving you to sink through the bottom of them. It's overcrowded. It's cold. And we were over it quickly. DONE. Unfortunately there are only two alternative exits and those happen pretty quickly at the beginning of the river so you're pretty much stuck at that point. The best you can hope for is to not get pushed into the rock walls and get scratched up (as happened to all of us at least once). Finally we reached the end, claimed our stuff and went to find a restaurant where we could use our "upgrade" vouchers for lunch.

We found ourselves very close to La Peninsula, Xcaret's answer to an upscale seafood restaurant. It's out on a point (thus the name) and it was truly the windiest place I've ever had a meal. Everything we chose was instantly cold because of the wind. I had chicken that was inedible, one of the others had steak that was almost raw, and the other two of us had seafood which was barely passable. What it comes down to is just another buffet restaurant. In hindsite, we should have gone across the cove to the hamburger joint.

After lunch we found a place to rest for a while and regroup. We looked at the map for perhaps the 100th time and I can truly say that was the worst map ever. We finally gave up looking at it and just started asking for directions from park employees.

After our rest we went through the butterfly exhibit, saw the pumas, looked into the ceynotes (sp?) and toured the grounds for a while. We headed back over to the locker area to change and give our snorkel gear back (at the river's entrance) and were surprised to see that NOBODY was waiting in line to enter the underground river. The moral of this story is get off the bus, go to the beach (which will be empty) and go do the river in the afternoon.

We caught the Papantla (pole swingers) which was very cool. This is a Mayan ritual where 5 guys climb to the top of this very high pole and they are secured only by a rope tied around their feet. As they go around in circles they get closer and closer to the ground. You shouldn't miss this if you go.

After another rest period we headed off to the Nighttime Espectacular. This is a huge show at the end of the evening with music, dancing, Mayan football (much like soccer but only using hips) and fireball (think hockey with a flaming puck). This was a good show, but VERY long. Long enough that there is an intermission. While we did enjoy this show, it was obvious that the locals were really enjoying it. I kept thinking that would be how it would feel for a Mexican person to come here and . . . say . . . go to an AC/DC concert. Not that they wouldn't enjoy it, but they certainly wouldn't enjoy it as much as the people around them.

We left a bit early and headed back to the bus meeting area. After a brief discussion we decided to skip the bus and hire a cab instead. $26 from Xcaret back to the hotel for the 4 of us. Probably the best money we spent that entire trip.

More later this afternoon, along with pics.
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 08:25 AM
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Enjoying your report. I have stayed at the IB Paraiso Del Mar and loved it.
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 04:09 PM
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Trip pics:


One thing I forgot to mention about the Nightime Espectacular at Xcaret: carry mosquito spray. The real stuff with DEET. We were almost eaten alive.

12/23 Tuesday.
After breakfast we headed back to the rooms to ready ourselves for the vow renewal. The minister and associate minister from First Baptist Church met us at the beach and performed the ceremony in spanish and in english. It was lovely and they were both wonderful, warm people. After the service we changed and traipsed over to the pool to see our friend Roberto. After a while of snoozing and lounging we decided on the spur of the moment to call the spa and see if they could get all four of us in for massages. We were in luck! We hiked over to the spa (which is in the back of the shopping mall by the way) to enjoy the amenities there while we waited for our appointment times. They have a wonderful heated salt-water pool, a steam room, a dry sauna, chromatherapy showers, and a jacuzzi room with 4 different temperatures of jacuzzis including a cold plunge pool. It was our own little slice of heaven. After the massage appointments (we all opted for 50 minute massages with reflexology and all were good) we went back to enjoy the jacuzzi room. Upon checking out from the spa we were each given a gift certificate for one days use of the wet areas for another day.

That night we dined at the Brazilian restaurant. It was certainly better than the Mexican restaurant, but not nearly as good as the Brazilian we've all had before. The chicken was great, the beef tenderloin was raw, the sides and sauces were nothing special. All of the desserts and breads and appetizers were the same as the ones found on the regular buffet.

12/24 Wednesday.
I woke up with a massive head cold and just wanted to be home. There is nothing worse than being away from home and feeling like you've been hit by a Mack truck. After some rest, a bit of breakfast and many ibuprofen I felt well enough to travel into Playa del Carmen with the bunch for some souvenir shopping. We paid $20 to PDC for the 4 of us to be dropped off at 5th Avenue. Our shopping excursion started off a bit rocky, as the first vendor whose shop we entered shut the door behind us and continued to badger us about a jewelry purchase until we told him if he didn't open his door one of us was going through it! This was not the slow and easy shopping day that I had imagined. We learned after that first stop how better to deal with the vendors. The first rule was never to show interest in something. The second rule was to make them convert pesos to US dollars at the current rate (MANY vendors will only offer you 10 pesos for one USD, despite the exchange rate being 12.54. If you intend to shop in PDC you need to know that the vendors are EXTREMELY aggressive and will call after you as you walk down the center of the street. Some of them will even follow along with you for a while.

After a while of slow wandering and a little bit of shopping we decided to seek out a restaurant for some mexican food. Not a chain restaurant . . . a real restaurant. No Senior Frogs for us, thank you very much. We found one that fit the bill on 4 Norte just a little north of 5th Avenue. Tiny little place called Carboncitas. We ordered two orders of marinated pork nachos, two beers, two coca colas and two orders of marinated flank steak tacos (can't remember the name of the tacos but it started with an A) and the bill came to $36. We could have easily split just one order of nachos and one order of tacos. The nachos were piled high and the pork, bean and cheese went all the way through. The steak tacos were plentiful, enough for 4 or so tacos. The rice and beans were some of the best any of us has ever tasted. I wouldn't hesitate to eat there again.

After another minute or two of shopping my energy was gone (stupid head cold) so we caught a cab back to the hotel for some more pool time. After a bit of rest we decided to use our spa gift certificates to soak in the hot tubs again, thinking it might alleviate my aches and pains. We stayed at the spa probably an hour and a half or so, relaxing and floating our cares away.

Later that evening the hotel held a Christmas Eve gala in the main restaurant and all the other restaurants on the property were closed. There was seafood galore. Lobster, shrimp any way you can imagine, jumbo tiger prawns, etc. The two of us who eat seafood were in heaven. The other two of us were left to overdone beef wellington and carved turkey breast. Nonetheless, it was a nice evening and we enjoyed each other's company (and a few refreshing adult beverages). Back to the room to pack for departure and make an appointment with the bell captain to have our bags picked up (which the hotel requires you to do).

12/25 Thursday.
After breakfast we headed back to our rooms to await the bellboy with whom we had a 9am appointment. 9:15 still no bellboy. Better Half calls to explain our situation and strongly suggests they send someone, along with a golf cart for us pronto, which they did. Upon checkout the front desk gave us two torn off tickets which weren't explained to us. Luckily I threw them into our travel envelope instead of in the trash because the bellboy collects those as your board your transportation to leave. That would have been nice to know.

We rode the Lomas shuttle to the airport, checked our baggage, went through customs and promptly went to the duty-free shop to buy liquor souvenirs for our adult friends. The Sun Country flight was on time and uneventful back to DFW. Some final thoughts after a break.
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Old Dec 26th, 2008, 04:49 PM
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Final thoughts:
Iberostar is a huge resort. HUGE. Would I stay there again? Yeah. But I would really prefer something just a bit smaller.

The food overall is just buffet food. If you've been to an AI or on a cruise you know what I mean. After about day three you're tired of it.

Most of the common areas on all of the Iberostar resorts are marble. They're really lovely, but also really slippery if they have the least amount of liquid on them. Each of us in the group slipped at least once, and I actually fell but luckily there was no damage except a bit of bruising. Take precautions if you are prone to falls.

Also, because of the size of the property I wouldn't recommend it to anyone with mobility issues. As I've said, the trolley is never where you want it to be. And once you get to your building you still have many stairs to climb to your room. All 4 of us are healthy active adults and we were absolutely worn out by the end of the trip from the back and forth.

Having said all that, the Iberostar employees were all friendly and helpful and happy to go out of their way for you. Especially the waitstaff.

As I've stated previously, I won't deal with Lomas Travel again.

If you are traveling to the area soon and contemplating Xcaret think long and hard before you commit that much money. I know people who LOVE Xcaret and go back every chance but I really don't see the appeal. In hindsite we should've spent that money getting down to Akumal for the day and doing some real snorkeling, instead of the Disney snorkeling you get at Xcaret. BUT I should also say I'm very spoiled about snorkeling as Honolua Bay on Maui and Tunnels on Kauai are my favorite spots to snorkel in the world.

In the 8 years since I've been to Playa it has grown infinitely. It's not even recognizable anymore. It is no longer the sleepy fishing village I remember. The folks who sold tacos out the back door of their houses under a blue tarp roof have been replaced by high-rent condo development. I truly have no intention of finding myself in PDC again.

All in all it was a good trip, and we were glad to have the time with our best friends.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 05:49 AM
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excellent report. thanks for posting. we liked xel-ha quite a bit when we were there - it is much smaller than xcaret. agree pdc is a bit to overgrown now.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 06:18 PM
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After sticker shock of our annual vacation last year in Portugal with the bad rate of the Euro I decided to DO Mexico this year. We will be 3 weeks end of November-Dec 19th in Cozumel-then PDC (We have not been there in over 20 years so I'm sure we're in for a shock) and then a week in Cancun.Thank you for your report-I have noted the restaurant Carboncitas. I beleive we were in Excaret when we were there before.We are both over the age of 60 so this will be just an R&R.Any recomondations of restaurants would be appreciated. In Cozumel we are at an all inclusive. In PDC we are at The Myan which is our timeshare and in Cancun we are at The Imperial Fiesta Clubwhich we also own at.Thanks for any input in advance.Chris
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Old Jan 12th, 2009, 06:31 PM
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Hi Chris. Thanks for your comment. Carboncitas is really the only restaurant I can recommend because we pretty much spent the rest of our time sequestered at the AI (other than Xcaret). Maybe somebody else will see your question and post?
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